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Safety Director Phil Johnson holds Risk Management Award presented by NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson, behind plaque. From left are: Deputy Director of Risk Finance Arlene Orenstein, GM Doug Apple

Safety Director Phil Johnson holds Risk Management Award presented by NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson, behind plaque. From left are: Deputy Director of Risk Finance Arlene Orenstein, GM Doug Apple, Chairman Tino Hernandez, DGM for Finance Felix Lam, NYCHA Controller Jeffrey Pagelson and Peggy Heveran, Executive Assistant to DGM for Finance.

NYCHA Wins Comptroller's Risk Management Award

NYC Controller William C. Thompson, Jr. presented his office’s Risk Management Award to the Housing Authority on January 19, 2007, at the New York Law School. The award was made in recognition of NYCHA’s innovative measures to reduce workforce injuries.

At the presentation, Comptroller Thompson remarked, "Under the leadership of Chairman Tino Hernandez, [NYCHA] pursues a robust Risk Management Program."

The award specifically recognized NYCHA’s Injury Repeater Focus Group initiative designed to reduce injuries to janitorial caretakers with above average injury rates for their job title. NYCHA achieved a 73 percent reduction in workers’ compensation claims for the injury repeaters in this group.

In accepting the award, Chairman Hernandez noted that, in addition to protecting the safety of employees, fewer injuries and related absences "means more time can be spent maintaining developments for residents, and that is a very positive outcome."

NYCHA’s decade-long decline in job- related injuries has also brought substantial savings in the cost of workers’ compensation insurance.

Safety Committee

NYCHA established a Safety Committee in 1995 to foster a strong safety culture by working with departments to integrate safe work practices into their operations. The committee’s comprehensive measures to reduce workplace injuries include: identification of safety issues, investigation of major accidents, safety training, and recognition of safety excellence through annual Safety Awards ceremonies.

As a result, employee injuries and related costs to the Authority have declined sharply. Last year, the injury rate fell to the lowest level since safety awareness and monitoring measures began in 1995.

Injury Repeaters Focus Group

In analyzing NYCHA’s injury profile, the Safety Committee determined that Caretaker J employees, who represent 27 percent of the workforce, recorded 60 percent of workers’ compensation accidents. Since these employees clean buildings and remove garbage -- which requires bending, stretching and lifting -- their higher rate of injury is not surprising. However, why did some employees in this group incur repeated injuries and accidents while others worked their entire career without sustaining any?

To answer this question, a Safety Perception Survey was conducted with 77 caretakers and other field staff who reported three or more injuries in 18 months. When asked about factors affecting safety and how to make the Safety Program better, Authority employees, as usual, had valuable insights to share.

"Many employees told us they wanted more communication between the employee and supervision on safety concerns, such as how to use a new product or perform an unfamiliar job," explained Safety Director Phil Johnson. Employees in immediate need of safety procedures not available at their location may now call the Safety Hotline (718) 707-5399 for assistance.

The importance of interpersonal relationships at the workplace was also emphasized. "Employees tell us they want to be treated with respect," Johnson said. "Feeling respected positively affects morale. At locations where morale is high, employees look out for each other. This is a highly important factor for safety."

These insights were discussed with a larger focus group of 400 injury repeaters at which additional accident avoidance strategies were developed. These practices were incorporated into Safety Committee presentations for field managers and supervisors at borough management safety seminars. The findings also brought adjustments in the formal training curriculum for the Caretaker J job title.

Discussion with the larger focus group included the emotional and financial impact of accidents on employees and their families. Consideration was also given to the impact of a workers’ compensation absence on the ability of co-workers to deliver services to residents. NYCHA’s work rules do not permit a development manager to replace an employee on workers’ compensation leave until he or she has been disabled for at least 90 days.

"The impact of injuries struck a chord when staff understood how their accidents affected fellow employees as well as residents," Johnson concluded.

Lessons Learned

Injury Repeater Focus Group training is just one tool in NYCHA’s arsenal of safety initiatives. However, the lessons learned have certainly contributed to reductions in the injury rate Authority wide. The September 2006 injury rate was 8.4 percent lower than just one year ago.